Some of you were looking for me, Peter O’Neill, at Forrester’s IT Forum 2011 in Las Vegas last week. My apologies; I was originally advertised as speaking at this event, but we decided to keep me in Europe after all, where I contributed to the first of a series of two-day partner trainings being run by Dell around the region (see my previous blog post on the topic). I will definitely be at the Forrester’s IT Forum EMEA 2011 in Barcelona next week though: I have four presentations to make and look forward to many interesting one-on-ones with tech marketers in between that packed schedule.

I wasn’t too upset about missing Las Vegas; ‘tis not my favorite place — did you know that I am invited to visit Las Vegas around six times a year? Clearly, I cannot attend everything as I must also do my day job: working inquiries, writing reports, and providing advisory; so my rule is to visit each vendor’s event every two years. Missing Las Vegas also meant I could go to the Ariba Live 2011 customer conference in London last Wednesday, which fascinated me because Ariba was one of the software vendors I worked with very closely back in my HP days in the late 90s. I was involved in several exciting eBusiness joint ventures then (BroadVision, Intershop Communications, and Yahoo were my other projects) most of which were really too visionary for those times. Ariba’s, and HP’s, vision was of an electronic procurement process running as an intranet application supported by Internet-wide directories and exchanges of suppliers.

After the eBusiness bubble famously fizzled out in 2001, Ariba was very clever to reposition itself as an applications vendor for spend management and has built up an impressive enterprise buyers installed base in the last decade. Ariba also brought together all the business services and product sellers that matter to these enterprises. Additionally, technology has caught up with the vision, and so all of these can take advantage of what Ariba now markets under the concept of “business collaboration,” cleverly including a graphic of a cloud on every page of conference collateral but not getting too bogged down in trying to sell the cloud concept. All in all, Ariba’s messaging is strictly business focused, not technological. Most of the attendees at Ariba Live (I counted more than 400 in the London event) were business professionals, not only from procurement but also from finance, IT, and marketing; the Ariba executives did a great job speaking their language. Ariba is also very focused on leveraging social media, and it is already very engaged with clients and the market through these channels with a series of programs run by Vice President for Networks, Jason Kurtz. One interesting idea that the company had for Ariba Live this year was to offer all the presentation slides on the SlideShare website in parallel with the event — it is often frustrating for event attendees to have to wait for an email, which comes weeks afterward, to get access to the presentation materials: Many people go back to the office highly energized to share what they have learned and need it much quicker. So kudos to Ariba for that idea, although it has learned that it is difficult to get agreement from all speakers in advance and also to restrict access to registered users on SlideShare.

One thing I am always sensitive to is the European-ness of an event and the company executives. Unfortunately, most of the Ariba presenters were American — although some of them have been living here in Europe for many years. Some attendees did tell me over coffee that this makes them a little unsure whether they can promote the solutions in their company. But then again, Ariba did a fine job of inviting several unabashedly European personalities to present their experiences with Ariba — including Luca Guzzabocca of the “oldest bank in the world,” the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, founded in 1472 and, apparently from a picture that was shown, still located in the same building in Siena. Now this is not a small bank; it is the third largest retail bank in Italy, with 30,000 employees, 25 of whom run all their procurement processes through Ariba managing €1.3 billion of spend across 20,000 suppliers.

Guzzabocca also said that 49% of this spend is in the information and communications technology (ICT) categories. This got me thinking: Are we in tech marketing doing enough to address the procurement professional? I would say that, historically, this was a hurdle we would leave to our colleagues in sales — the last (probably price-focused and painful) negotiation before an order is closed. But nowadays we need to accept that these contacts are much more proactive and influential in business technology (BT) projects and purchases. Many of them are researching around BT subjects, often using social media, in very early phases of their buying, on their own with no vendor contact. So, as we like to say at Forrester, the buyers have taken control of the process, and the challenge for marketing is to be found by business people researching against their (the business people’s) agenda and language; not to broadcast features and functions.

The presentation from another speaker, Donald Ferguson, head of procurement operational excellence at AstraZeneca, made this much clearer. He observed that most businesses have moved from the cost containment imperative to a growth agenda with “higher expectations of suppliers.” They are expecting their suppliers to contribute with ideas of business innovation. A typical project for him is an “intersection of procurement, IT, finance, and customer service” process changes and automation. This would imply that tech marketers must be much more aggressive in thought leadership, focused on business outcomes and not technologies. The placement of this content also has to be much more planned and aimed at social media properties and more easily available to audiences who may not even be in the prospect databases.

Another thought I had, I tweeted it out on the day and got a lot of responses, was the importance for tech marketers of Ariba Discovery. This is Ariba’s products and services directory but with far more functionality than just listings. Three thousand buyers, 56% of whom are in Global 2000 enterprises, are now registering potential project leads, including BT projects, through Ariba Discovery. Suppliers who register and profile themselves in Discovery are matched against these declared needs and given the opportunity to respond. In the past 12 months, there were 47 million such leads resulting in more than 50,000 opportunity matches. The Ariba matching engine is getting increasingly sophisticated as it is in the company’s interest to provide quality leads and matches to parties on both sides of the buying cycle. So, is an Ariba Discovery opportunity match a sales lead? No. It would probably not be productive to pass it to a sales rep immediately — many of the leads are actually more like RFIs. There needs to be someone in marketing to take responsibility for these opportunities and nurture the engagement until it can be called a sales lead. My recommendation: Tech marketing should probably be evaluating routes to market such as Ariba Discovery just as much as they do for search engine optimization or other channels. It should also be part of the overall social media strategy (i.e., one of the T’s in Forrester’s POST methodology).

Do you agree? Disagree? Are you involved in this or other procurement directories and have had a good or bad experience? Please let us know, perhaps you have executed a best practice that I can share with other Forrester clients. I’d love to hear from you on this.

Always keeping you informed! Peter